House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was acadian.


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12:35 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take part in this debate today on Bill C-45, which deals, among other things and most importantly, with the criminal liability of organizations.

It is with great pleasure that I do so, because I had the opportunity, over a year ago, to attend the convention of the Canadian Labour Congress, the CLC, in Montreal. The CLC had made a number of parliamentarians aware of the problem. I remember this convention in Montreal quite well. Some parliamentarians were present. I was there, but there were also representatives from the NDP. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party had refused to attend, as had the Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance.

The delegates made us aware of the importance of making legislative changes to better protect workers. They gave as an example, of course, the explosion at the Westray mine, in Nova Scotia. The explosion inside the mine had caused the death of more than 26 men. After a rather extensive public inquiry, it was concluded that, most likely, if some prevention or safety measures had been taken to protect workers, the tragedy would not have occurred. The public inquiry into the Westray mine showed that there had been negligence on the part of company directors, with respect to safety.

The delegates had made us aware of the importance of enacting legislation. Essentially, Bill C-45 is merely the expression of a willingness to react to this problem and to make the necessary legislative changes.

I must remind the House that we had studied this issue many times before, through private members' bills such as Bill C-468, Bill C-259 and, more recently, Bill C-284, containing similar provisions. Of course, some aspects have been omitted from Bill C-45. We know that some provisions of Bill C-284, particularly with regard to penalties, have not been included in Bill C-45. Consequently, we would like to amend it.

First of all, the bill uses the word “organization” instead of “corporation”. As a result, it applies to a larger number of institutions. We must raise the awareness of firms regarding the need for prevention and protection of workers in the workplace. However, we must realize that some workplaces are more dangerous than others.

As the Westray mine disaster taught us, it is essential to make the organization, in other words the institution or the firm, responsible for the protection of workers.

Another aspect of the bill is that from now on a firm will be criminally liable for the actions of employees who are not necessarily very high in the hierarchy. What does this mean? It means that in the case of bosses who are not necessarily executives but foremen or third or second level bosses, the firm would have organizational liability insofar as these bosses are responsible for the enforcement of stringent security standards.

Negligence is no longer acceptable, it is now a criminal offence. This is not a trivial issue when we know that some workplaces are more dangerous than others, especially for human health. Moreover, in some workplaces, negligence relating to safety can result in the loss of human life. The Westray mine is a case in point.

Offences of negligence are another important aspect. Let us take criminal negligence as an example. The moral element of the offence will be attributable to the organization insofar as the moral element of the offence can be attributed to one of the senior officers of the organization.

So, as I mentioned earlier, there is now criminal liability for offences of negligence. In reality, the whole issue of prevention in the workplace is at the heart of these provisions.

Another aspect of the bill is that it explicitly makes it a duty for those who have the authority to direct how employees do work, to take the necessary steps to prevent bodily harm to the employees. In other words, this is about the responsibility of foremen and managers and the need to have stringent prevention standards in dangerous workplaces. That is another important aspect.

Clause 3 of Bill C-45 is even more interesting and it is the key element of the bill. It reads as follows, and I quote:

Every one who direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person or any other person, arising from that work or task.

This will make it possible to charge those who fail to comply with this requirement with criminal negligence.

With clause 3 of the bill, occupational safety is improved. This is fundamental.

We agree with certain aspects relating to the principle of the bill. But we can only condemn the fact that between the time when we studied Bill C-284, during the first session of this Parliament, and Bill C-45 now before us, some substance was lost, with respect to the criminal liability of directors and officers, for example.

With respect to the penalties that could be imposed on organizations, I should point out that they would have no effect in cases of bankruptcy. Given the very principle that underlies it, Bill C-45 should therefore not be allowed to provide loopholes to businesses which are in a difficult fiscal situation or have declared bankruptcy.

In our opinion, there should be full liability, not only for businesses which are operating but also for those that have declared bankruptcy. It seems clear to us that this bill bears some resemblance to Bill C-284, but there are significant omissions as well. The danger is that this could lead to loopholes with respect to criminal liability.

Another significant omission is that, contrary to Bill C-284, Bill C-45 contains no provisions for making directors and officers of corporations criminally liable if they are not the ones who, materially, committed a criminal act.

Once again, there are significant omissions in this bill and, in some respects, Bill C-284 was more comprehensive than the one before us today.

I will point out in closing that, with a vote in favour of this bill today, we are telling those working in conditions hazardous to their health and safety that the message from the Westray mine workers has come through loud and clear: negligence must be punished.

We have also understood that prevention is the most fundamental action, the cornerstone of worker protection. We believe nothing like this must ever be allowed to happen again. We believe that imposing penalties and taking stringent measures, up to and including punishment of negligence under the Criminal Code, cannot help but improve workers' lives, as well as their working conditions.

The message we are sending out today is that we have understood the Westray mine workers, and intend to make the necessary legislative changes to protect them better. Workers have the right to protection, particularly when they work in a dangerous environment.

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12:45 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am happy to again have an opportunity to address Bill C-45, which deals with corporate criminal liability.

When debate on second reading began on Monday, I had an opportunity to raise various concerns that had been identified about the legislation in terms of the shortfall, the inadequacy of the provisions in the bill to actually get the job done, to actually act upon the horrifying tragic lessons of the Westray disaster that occurred in my province in 1992 resulting in the deaths of 26 miners.

What the Westray inquiry clearly established was that those deaths were preventable. I will quote directly from the report of Justice Peter Richard when he said that it documented “a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity and neglect”.

The details of that horrendously irresponsible behaviour that could be described as nothing less than criminal have been fully spelled out. I will quote briefly from a couple of the specifics that documented the glaring safety abuses, among them: inadequate ventilation design and maintenance that failed to keep methane and coal dust at safe levels; unauthorized mine layout, forcing miners to work risky tunnels to get the coal out faster; methane detectors were disconnected because frequent alarms, signalling dangerous concentrations of methane, interrupted coal production; procedures to stonedust coal to render it non-explosive were done only sporadically, usually before inspections; and an appalling lack of safety training for miners.

There may be some people following the debate on this so-called Westray bill, Bill C-45, who are wondering if this only has to do with coal mining. That is an important question to be addressing. Many people know that coal mining, by its very nature and its very essence, is a very hazardous industry, and that is true, but what has clearly been established is that the most basic, the most elementary, the most fundamental safety precautions that could have prevented this tragedy were not observed, were not enforced by the company that employed those workers and operated that mine.

However it is about more than coal mining and this particular tragedy. It is about the 1,000 men and women in this country who lose their lives in workplace accidents. It is about the close to one million--and it is hard to get one's head around that figure--workplace accidents that occur on an annual basis in this country.

At the end of the day it is not a statistic or an array of statistics that we are talking about. What we are talking about are human lives shattered or terminated, in all too many cases, as a result of practices that could have been improved and accidents prevented.

In the few minutes that remain to me I do not want to talk about more details respecting the Westray disaster because that has been well-documented again and again. It was documented in the private member's bill that I had the privilege of bringing forward in 1999, which died on the Order Paper, and in the private member's bill brought forward by my colleague from Churchill which also was sidelined. However, we are finally at the point where we are dealing with a piece of legislation. It is inadequate to the task but at least it is now before us and we need to get it right.

In the few minutes remaining to me I will talk about a courageous young man by the name of Lewis Wheelan. One month ago today, on August 19, 2003, I received the following message from the parents of Lewis Wheelan, Melanie and Bob Wheelan, from Echo Bay, Ontario. The message reads, “Sadly I share with you the loss of our beloved Lewis. He left us strong and optimistic with nothing but love in his heart even for those who failed him so terribly”.

I want to tell the House the tragic horror story that unfolded on May 30, 2001 for 19 year old Lewis Wheelan, a young man who was energetic, optimistic and who faced a brilliant career.

He reported for his summer job on May 30, 2001 after his first year at university. The second day on the job he was electrocuted by 7,200 volts from a live hydro wire dropped on him as he worked gathering and piling brush for his employer.

As a result of that electrocution he lost his right arm, his right shoulder front and back, both legs, the middle finger of his left hand, partial use of his left hand due to nerve damage in the forearm and was burned over half of his body.

I visited Lewis Wheelan in his home as he was struggling to pull his body and soul together to get out across the country to tell his story and fight for workplace health and safety and, yes, fight for the kind of legislation that we are here considering today, which is legislation to change the Criminal Code to hold corporations accountable for criminal behaviour in putting the lives of employees knowingly at risk in the workplace.

It is a double tragedy that Lewis Wheelan passed away in August, because he was clearing brush under contract to a company that was engaged by Great Lakes Power. In the hearings held to gain convictions for the completely unsafe practices of that company under contract, what was absolutely documented was that this was a private company owned by Brascan that was constantly guilty of cutting corners, of not maintaining the power lines to any kind of safety standard, not clearing the trees and brush in a timely manner and not willing to invest the money to keep the lines safe so that the line that broke, which resulted in Lewis' electrocution and ultimately his death, had 15 splices in it. The company was too cheap to protect the lives of its workers.

However, even though, under the provincial health and safety requirements for training, this company was found to be woefully inadequate, the occupational health and safety division of the Ontario government was not able to hold the four directors charged in this case in any way accountable for their actions.

This is a company that made $240 million last year. It received a fine of $250,000 and, I might say, a tax deductible fine, which my colleague for Winnipeg North has repeatedly talked about as being obscene and something we have to do something about.

It is a double tragedy that this young man's life was ended as a result, again, of inadequate public policy. His life ended as a result of the power blackout; surely a double irony if we consider the workplace accident that occurred in the first place.

As a result of the power blackout, Lewis Wheelan was abandoned for his most basic survival needs. I think two things are underscored by the story of Lewis Wheelan's life. First, the need for us to not just consider the legislation that is before us and uncritically pass it, but for us to send it on to committee where it is absolutely essential that it be tightened up and made more effective in order to achieve the recommendation made by Justice Peter Richard, which was to establish criminal liability for the directors and the senior managers who escape responsibility in such a horrendously irresponsible and reckless situations.

Second, it seems appropriate on this occasion to acknowledge that we need to keep the provision of power, as my provincial colleague, Howard Hampton, has argued again and again, in the public domain where there will be public accountability and where we do not end up with situations of private corporations further contracting out work, such as the maintaining of power lines, completely thumbing their noses at health and safety and not concerning themselves with the impact a power failure has on people' s lives.

I want to say again, as many have, that we welcome the fact that the bill has reached this stage. One steelworker e-mailed me this morning, as many others have, and said “Thank goodness the Westray bill is finally making its way into law”. However let us take the opportunity to do the job right in the name of the 26 Westray miners who lost their lives and in the name of the families of those Westray miners who pleaded to me and my NDP provincial colleagues 11 years ago to see that their loved ones did not lose their lives in vain, to at least leave that legacy for their children. Let us do it in the name of the Lewis Wheelans of this country who have lost their lives by the thousands, 1,000 every year on average, because of workplace health and safety accidents, the overwhelming majority of which could have been prevented.

As the NDP caucus has already indicated, we will be supporting the bill going to committee. Sometimes when we say that we will support a bill to go to committee and we hope there will be improvements when it gets there, we have a kind of sinking feeling that it is a faint hope. The government knew the legislation, as it brought it forward, was inadequate. It did not make the restrictions as tight as they needed to be, the provisions to capture those senior managers and directors. The government knew that.

However I have to say in this case that I am optimistic that the justice committee will do the work that is necessary to make sure this legislation comes back to the House appropriately amended. Why am I optimistic? I am optimistic because it was the justice committee that was willing to act on the private members' bills brought forward by myself and by my colleague from Churchill in the first place and put the government on the spot. Unanimously, members of all parties in the House recommended to the government that it take the essence of Justice Peter Richard's recommendations on the Westray inquiry, the essence of the private members' bills that we brought forward on behalf of the Westray workers and families, and the thousands and thousands of others whose lives have been unnecessary lost, and bring forth legislation to once and for all address this issue.

I appeal to the justice committee to act in that spirit and, having done the homework, having understood the need for this legislation, that it not bring forward nominal amendments that are just tokens, but amendments that will be effective, enforceable and will ensure the job is done.

I look forward to that spirit being carried out by all my colleagues in the House who represent the people of Canada who look for leadership on this issue.

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Government Orders

1 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to recognize and thank the member for Halifax for her speech regarding the absolutely tragic incident involving 26 miners killed in the Westray mine disaster.

As much as Canadians across the country were horrified that these 26 people were killed 10 years ago in the Westray tragedy, they were even more horrified to learn that under the current Criminal Code those who were clearly responsible for these deaths would never be prosecuted. The crown prosecutors of Nova Scotia had to stay the charges because they knew the charges would not stick.

I know it was through the work of the leader of the NDP at that time, the current member for Halifax, who put forward a private member's bill, and other members of our caucus who worked closely with the steelworkers and pushed year after year to have this issue of corporate accountability, or what I call corporate manslaughter, recognized. The essence of what we are introducing here would amend the Criminal Code to entertain the legal concept of corporate manslaughter.

I would ask the hon. member for Halifax to expand on her view of what this will look like when it becomes a change to the Criminal Code of Canada. Some people are using the analogy that if someone kills a person while driving under the influence of alcohol, the individual is not just charged with a traffic violation but is also charged with manslaughter due to gross negligence. Our argument being that gross negligence in the workplace causing the death of a worker should be treated and viewed in much the same way. This is not just a workplace safety and health violation anymore. It is a violation of the Criminal Code as it pertains to manslaughter and murder.

Would the hon. member for Halifax expand on how she would ultimately like to see this new legal concept manifested in the Criminal Code?

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1:05 p.m.


Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague has of course has been a champion of workplace health and safety protections in his role as labour critic of the NDP and previously as a labour leader in the field. Therefore, what he very much recognizes is the inadequacy of our current laws to hold corporations accountable for what essentially is corporate greed very often in not ensuring that the kind of workplace health and safety conditions are created, that the workplace health and safety training is there and that investment in the job and working conditions is absolutely essential to provide the safest possible working conditions.

Sometimes I think people will say that we cannot prevent workplace accidents from happening. It is an absolute cop out to take that view. Of course we cannot prevent all accidents but most accidents can be prevented. The question is whether a company takes all the precautions that can be taken and can be reasonably expected to prevent the preventable accidents from ever occurring.

Many people watched in horror the account of the Westray disaster. What became absolutely clear was a convergence of political optimism by the respective governments of the day, and this is well documented, the Conservative government in Ottawa and the Conservative government in Nova Scotia, together with a corporation that engaged consistently in criminally irresponsible behaviour. When it came to trying to obtain convictions, it was not even possible for the law to get to first base with respect to that company. It was not possible to enforce subpoenas to bring the two most responsible persons in that company before the Westray inquiry let alone before the courts.

Therefore, what we are talking about here is changes to the Criminal Code that would make it possible to see through the kinds of convictions that would be appropriate to hold the corporate directors and the senior decision makers in a company also responsible for their actions, as all workers are now held responsible for their actions.

Why we need to see amendments to this bill when it gets to committee and before it comes back to the House for final consideration is because in the most ironic and perverse way there is a stiffening of the penalties that would apply to lead hands, to workers directly, but there is a very big escape for the most senior officers. Yet the recommendation of the Westray inquiry, the judge who presided over it, Peter Richard, was that we needed changes to the Criminal Code that would specifically make it possible to hold the senior directors and officers of a company criminally liable.

Those are the kinds of changes we need to get the job done correctly.

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1:10 p.m.


Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, it is certainly beyond doubt that this legislation is highly welcome and most desirable. Perhaps the debate might be on whether it goes far enough or whether it goes too far.

Having gone over it, I would be inclined to think that the legislation offers a good initial step and as have other speakers in this debate have already indicated, it might be strengthened in committee when it gets there.

There is no doubt that this is an area that needs attention; namely, the area of regulating behaviour.

We regulate behaviour when it comes to traffic and transport. We regulate behaviour when it comes to the supply of food to consumers. We regulate behaviour in the use of the public airwaves, we could say. We regulate behaviour even in the use of the freedom of speech. It is therefore quite appropriate that we move into this area that would regulate the behaviour of the corporate sector when it comes to the security and the safety of its employees.

As others have already indicated, this is not just a measure for miners, it is a measure that would help to protect workers in a variety of industries, from construction, to forestry, to fisheries and so on.

However the event in Westray, which touched us deeply 11 years ago, is the one that somehow has triggered this measure, which made us realize that there was veil of protection to allow decisions in the corporate sector which turned out to be unreasonable and to the detriment of all employees.

The bill removes the shield that protects the corporate sector from anonymity and it aims at two aspects, which I would like to read into the record because they are very encouraging and most desirable.

First, it is to:

establish rules for attributing to organizations, including corporations, criminal liability for the acts of their representatives;

That means that corporate CEOs, decision maker and managers would be responsible for their actions should it turn out they were irresponsibly acting in the management of that particular sector in that particular firm.

Second, it is to:

establish a legal duty for all persons directing work to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public;

That also seems to me to be well thought out, timely and will go a long way in improving behaviour and preventing accidents to workers engaged in a variety of activities across the nation every day.

There is never enough attention paid to the safety of workers at work or on site. If we seem to be focusing in this bill on miners, it is because they are probably those who face daily most danger than many other occupations and also that is where the number of accidents more frequently take place.

However through this bill, we are approaching it and applying it to the entire federal jurisdiction. It is one measure that I think the present environment will be proud and it is of course our hope on this side of the House that this measure will go through all its stages and be proclaimed possibly by the end of October so it will be part of the record of the present government.

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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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1:15 p.m.


Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Speaker, I think if you were to seek it, the House would give its consent to see the clock as 1:30 p.m.

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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

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1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Private Members' Business

September 19th, 2003 / 1:15 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC


That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that, following the steps already taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, she will intercede with Her Majesty to cause the British Crown to recognize officially the wrongs done to the Acadian people in its name between 1755 and 1763.

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure and some measure of optimism that I rise today in the House to launch the debate on Motion No.382.

As you know, this is not the first time that I submit to the House this motion that is so important to me, but I sincerely hope that it will be the last.

Some may wonder why I constantly bring up this issue. tIt is simply because it has not yet been resolved. Ignoring a reality that is unpleasant or that makes us uneasy will not make it go away like magic.

The fact is that a substantive debate has emerged within Acadian society regarding its painful past. Personally, I see this as a very positive and beneficial process, because it is a first step towards the healing of old wounds and, in the long run, towards true reconciliation.

The Société Nationale de l'Acadie, supported by its member and affiliated societies, has taken up the cause in the matter of asking the British Crown to officially recognize the facts of the deportation. Therefore, it is no longer the cause of one individual or a few people acting in isolation, but of organizations representing the Acadian people.

It would therefore be appropriate for the House of Commons to recognize the facts, since it cannot, as a democratic institution, continue to ignore movements that are active in our society. Moreover, in this particular case, it is useful to remember that the House has a privileged institutional relationship with the Crown. Thus, it can propose to serve as a conduit between the British Crown and the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, which does not enjoy this kind of privileged relationship.

It is not right to forget this tragedy that took place in Canada. Because it is the both tragic and glorious saga of the Acadian people that we are talking about.

Knowing these historical facts makes it possible to measure the road we have already travelled, and so be even more amazed at the vitality of the Acadian people today.

Thus it is our duty, and ours first, to take a calm look at this dark episode in our history. Subjects of the Crown since the treaty of Utrecht and tolerated under Queen Anne's edict, the Acadians, simply because of their language and religion, were deprived of their rights and freedoms, stripped of their goods and expelled unmercifully, in peril of their lives and in flagrant contravention of the constitutional principles prevailing since time immemorial, even before they were codified in the Magna Carta.

This legal document, enacted by King John, known as John Lackland, in 1215, and reaffirmed by Edward I in 1297, established a certain number of rules and rights which even a king must not violate.

It is a constitutional text whose provisions are essentially still in force today. In articles 35, 36 and 37 of the 1215 Magna Carta and in articles 28 and 29 of the 1297 version, it is stipulated that, and I quote:

[...] no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Moreover, British law gave any subject the absolute right to stay in the country. Of course, in the end, these rights were not recognized for the Acadians as His Majesty's subjects. Yet, because of their birth right, they were under no obligation to take an oath to be considered His Majesty's subjects.

As for those who had been born before the treaty of Utrecht was signed, as I said earlier in this House, they became Her Majesty's subjects by operation of law alone, as confirmed by Queen Anne's edict.

And since they could not relinquish their natural allegiance to the king of France, because of their birth right, which British law also recognized, it would have been inconceivable for the King of England to ask them to bear arms against their former sovereign, which he was careful not to do, until Lawrence carried out the deportation plan devised by Shirley in 1746.

I think I have clearly shown the House that the requirement of taking an unconditional oath was just a crude and spurious attempt to legitimize a purely illegal act under British law.

Clearly, the goal was to disperse the Acadians in Protestant and English communities, so as to facilitate and accelerate their assimilation and eventually ensure their end as a distinct cultural, religious and linguistic group.

Some claim that this was, quite simply, genocide. Obviously, it is not easy to apply modern values and legal concepts to something that happened 250 years ago.

Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer and theorist who coined the term genocide, wrote in 1944 that he had created this term:

—to denote an old practice in its modern development.

Although the goal was not to kill people, many thousands of people died during that time. Entire families were wiped off the face of the Earth.

That said, there is no doubt that this kind of operation, as defined by the United Nations after World War II, is extremely similar to crimes of genocide.

The United Nations decreed that:

—genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;... forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

That said, I think that we can agree that this is a very serious event, that cannot be minimized or justified whatsoever. If we take a strictly legal, not to say legalistic, approach, we must conclude that the legal implications of these events are still being felt to this day.

In fact, the 1968 convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity stipulates that no statutory limitation shall apply to a crime of genocide, whether committed during times of peace or times of war.

Therefore, if the British really committed a genocide type crime against the Acadian people, some could claim that those guilty of such activities are responsible in perpetuity. Under current international law, British officers like Lawrence and Mockton should be brought to justice. The only problem is that these people are now dead.

In fact, all of them are dead, except for His or Her Majesty, there being in British law a legal fiction according to which His or Her Majesty can never die. “The King is dead. Long live the King,” as the saying goes.

According to this principle, Her Majesty could be held responsible for the deportation, particularly since the Magna Carta was violated.

It is interesting to note that here in Canada, since June 2000, when the act respecting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes was added to Canadian legislation, it has been possible to prosecute the Crown for such actions. Section 3 of this act states that the Act is binding on Her Majesty. By this Act, the Crown gives up its immunity and in so doing, accepts the fact that it could eventually be held responsible for this type of crime, regardless of the time elapsed, because this procedure is of course retroactive, there being no statutory limitation.

I know that on the government side, several members are concerned that the Canadian government could end up being held responsible for actions taken in the name of the Crown, at the time of the deportation, because of the successor state principle and might have to compensate the Acadians. I want to reassure them. Even if some people would indeed like to see the Crown compensate the Acadians, it is important to note that this is not the purpose of the current motion.

Moreover, Université de Moncton professor of international law Kamel Khiari, a member of the expert panel set up by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie to address the implications of Motion M-241, has already expressed the opinion that, in crimes of this nature, responsibility cannot be transferred to the successor state but remains in perpetuity with the predecessor state, unless the latter has ceased to exist in law in the interim.

Not only does the United Kingdom still exist, but it is still governed by the same constitutional framework and, in theory, still has the same head of state, as has already been pointed out. Her Majesty therefore has a duty to officially recognize the wrongs done to the Acadian people in the name of the Crown, since such exactions do not fade from the collective memory of a nation as readily as some would have us believe.

In these cases, a curious psychosocial phenomenon apparently develops, the term for which was coined by Christopher L. Blakesley. “The phenomenology of shame” refers to the fact that, for a people that has been a victim of exactions of this nature, it is difficult to escape the perpetual painful memories of these events, unless a process of acceptance has been engaged in order to come to “own” these events. This process often involves recognition, by the authors of those actions themselves, of the wrongs that have been done as a result of these inhumane actions.

Despite the claims of some, this is not just a long-ago event that can be easily dismissed. Beyond the psychosocial effects that I just mentioned, the deportation had legal repercussions that theoretically could still apply today.

The deportation order that resulted in the catastrophic Grande Dérangement, has never been lifted and consequently is still in force today. An Acadian travelling to England could be arrested and deported since, theoretically at least, he would be considered a common criminal. It is high time we set the record straight and finally recognize the harm that was caused to the Acadian people, just as it was to the Maori and the Irish, in the name of the British Crown.

On August 16, His Honour Herménégilde Chiasson, a well known Acadian artist, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer him my sincerest and warmest congratulations on this appointment, which, if I may say, caps a long and already very successful career.

In an interview he gave a few days later to the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal , the new Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick said he did not intend to take advantage of his position to exert pressure on the British Crown to apologize for the deportation of the Acadians. He added, and I quote:

I have always been a strong advocate of modernity. Acadia is burdened by its past. I have long felt that Acadians are bogged down in constantly analysing their history...Of course the Deportation was tragic, but we should stop dragging the past around like a ball and chain...Acadians should...roll up their sleeves instead of feeling sorry for themselves over their past.

It may surprise some, but I more or less agree with him. No one is asking him to get involved in seeking an apology from the British Crown. He is right not to want to get involved since no one is officially asking that the Crown apologize to the Acadian people any more.

Finally, it can indeed be unhealthy to dwell obsessively on tragic events of the past, to be nostalgic about paradise lost. This is why I believe it is very important for the Acadian people to come to grips with its tragic past, to finally turn the page on a dark chapter in its history, without forgetting it, so it can live for the present and look to the future.

We must not be afraid of learning from the past because history has made us what we are today and looking back at it can help us avoid repeating our mistakes and build a better future.

As suggested in Motion No.382 and as I have already mentioned, I think that the House of Commons, because of its institutional ties with the British Crown, must support the initiative taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie.

Could this kind of recognition reignite old quarrels and create conflict between the two main language communities in Atlantic Canada? I do not think so. On the contrary, I believe, as I was saying earlier, that it would be a first step toward true reconciliation.

I will conclude with this statement made by Honoré Mercier at the Baltimore convention, on November 12, 1889:

We are resolved to be guided solely by justice in our public affairs. We believe in justice no matter what: in the name of justice, we accept the heaviest responsibilities and the most serious consequences not only of the present and the future, but of the past as well. And when we realize after the fact that the dictates of such justice were ignored, that its interests were neglected, that its rights were violated, then we believe that it is necessary to go back in time to right the wrongs and pay the debt.

Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Laval East


Carole-Marie Allard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to respond to the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, who is putting forward Motion No. 382.

The motion asks:

That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that, following the steps already taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, she will intercede with Her Majesty to cause the British Crown to recognize officially the wrongs done to the Acadian people in its name between 1755 and 1763.

I humbly suggest that this motion contains a major flaw. It has to do with Canada's sovereignty. Canada is no longer a colony and the wording of the motion is quite shocking for anyone who has some knowledge of constitutional law. I will explain.

In 1926, the Balfour Declaration set out that the dominions were equal in status and equal to Great Britain. Then, in 1931, the Statute of Westminster made Canada a sovereign state. The recognition of its sovereignty was finalized when, at the request of Canada, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Canada Act 1982.

Under this act, legislation passed by the British Parliament after the Canada Act 1982 is not part of the laws of Canada.

The member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes does not understand that. The constitutional status of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II and of the Governor General is not similar to that of the Queen of the United Kingdom.

The Governor General of Canada represents the Canadian Crown and not the United Kingdom Crown. It would be totally iappropriate for a representative of the Crown in right of Canada to make representations to another country's institution, the Crown of the United Kingdom.

If the Government of Canada were to intervene, the initiative should come from the federal cabinet. It is the government that could then ask the head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of the United Kingdom, to take appropriate measures.

Consequently, Motion 382 is seriously flawed as to its form, which in itself would be sufficient to oppose it. But there are other reasons relating to the evolution of our country and the Acadian community that compel me to not support this motion.

The deportation of the Acadians is obviously one of the darkest chapters of our history. The Acadian people was made to suffer greatly. Our historians recognize that. They all recognize it. The former Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Roméo Leblanc, himself an Acadian, said:

If there is one group of Canadians whose past could have poisoned their future it is the Acadians. In the middle of the Eighteenth century they were wrenched from their homes and deported to distant shores.

Some managed to escape this deportation with the aid of friendly native people. But they were refugees in their own country, stripped of their land and their voting rights and then later, three years after Confederation, stripped of their schools. When it came to the Acadians, the Fathers of Confederation had nothing to say!But the Acadians did not give up. We survived.

Also, during the ceremony at the University of Moncton to present him with an honorary doctorate in May 1969, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said:

Some two centuries ago, New Brunswick seemed destined to become an exclusively English-speaking province. After the deportation of the Acadians, there was nothing to suggest any other outcome. The Acadians, having been eliminated in one fell swoop...were simply swept off the map...But you reclaimed your place in the sun, and refused to let the bitterness and resentment of old quarrels and inequities linger on.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage also stated in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia:

Disturbing as it may be, the deportation has also shown the courage and determination of a community that wanted to survive against all odds. This is what contributes to the strength and success of the Acadian community today.

The Acadians are a people, and a people in tune with the modern world. They are a community with a sense of belonging. They are brothers and sisters by their language and their heart.

She made this speech when she announced the cooperation agreement between Parks Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Société de promotion de Grand-Pré to develop the Grand Pré tourist site.

What should our attitude be toward this failure of the past? Should we keep going over the deportation and all the suffering it entailed? Should we try to quantify all the suffering inflicted on the Acadians? Should we blame those responsible or simply take stock of what happened and learn from this experience? No apology could ever erase this tragedy, but we should focus our energies on our present and our future.

What disturbs me also is not only the message that is being sent, but also the messenger.

The hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, well meaning as he may be, belongs to a political party that promotes independence for Quebec. We cannot ignore the fact that his party wants to make an irreparable change in the Canadian political landscape.

Fortunately, we have so far been able to spare Acadians “le grand dérangement” that Quebec's independence, Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada, would have caused. But let us never forget, when we consider that my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois has a seat in this House, that his party is committed to a cause that is not about the survival of this country.

The separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada that the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes seeks would have resulted in the immeasurable tragedy of severing the physical links between Acadians and other residents of the Atlantic provinces and the rest of Canada. This is an indisputable fact, and all Acadians know it.

This reality cannot be wiped out. And even though the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes is well-intentioned today because he has discovered, among other things, that his family has Acadian roots and he now travels in Acadia, this does not take away from the message. He is the messenger of a party that does not believe in the cause of francophones outside Quebec, that does not believe in the cause of bilingualism in Canada and that would not hesitate to isolate Acadians if this would allow it to fulfill its dream of having Quebec achieve independence. Will we allow him to spend the rest of his political life bragging that he had this motion passed?

I invite the hon. member to consider his change in attitude toward French Canadians outside Quebec and the Acadians, a people we love and who are in tune with the modern world to paraphrase the Minister of National Heritage. I ask the hon. member to have the courage to admit that he has changed his mind about Quebec's independence, for the greater good of the Acadians he is now trying to help.

If the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes wants to honour Acadians and all other French Canadians with this gesture of respect and clearly state that his party must abandon plans for Quebec's independence, only then will I consider supporting him.

For the moment, I think that his actions are clearly inconsistent, and this must be pointed out, his personal qualities notwithstanding.

So, I anxiously await this statement from him. In the meantime, I want to add that Canadians are experts at managing tension between different groups. We have proven this in the past. It is by focusing on this ability that Canada will move forward, not by dwelling on past mistakes.